Previously on “My journey to the Cowell Club”
I visited lots and lots and lots of parkruns, met oodles and oodles and oodles of lovely people, came last at Old Deer Park, first (female) at Highbury Fields and somewhere in between everywhere else.
Part 4: Venues 76 to 100
Venue 76 – Southend (UK, South East London)
Two flat laps by the seaside, a chance to catch up with Carla (@fortnightflo) and Sharon (Shazruns), some lovely support from Norm’s mum… but mostly, this is the parkrun which Norm (@n0rm) ran in leather ankle boots. Minor details like forgetting your running shoes cannot compete with a full on parkrun addiction.
Venue 77 – Woodley (UK, South East England)
I can’t describe the course. There are laps, there’s a playing field, there’s a pond, there are some wiggles. But I was under instructions to go as hard as I could and then find even more, so all I really focused on was the t-shirt of the woman in front of me. 25:32 – my only sub-26 time ever.
Venue 78 – Havant (UK, South East England)
Home (or one of the homes) of the Cake Club, this is one of my favourite types of course. Trail, not tarmac, undulating not flat, trees not fields. It’s also my preferred size. Small enough that unfamiliar faces are spotted and greeted and personally invited back to the café, but large enough that you’re running with company. Basically, I loved it. Could you tell?
Venue 79 – Hilly Fields (UK, Greater London)
Another Ronseal parkrun – it’s hilly and there are fields. [Since calling Wanstead Flats a Ronseal parkrun, I have been reliably informed by @urglecom that it is in fact not in Wanstead but in Leytonstone. That’s as maybe. Hilly Fields is Hilly and there are Fields. It’s a Ronseal parkrun.] There was also an ‘athoner, Adele (@adeleprince), who is one of the core volunteer team, and an unexpected encounter with uber-tourist John Matthews, who was fitting in a spot of volunteering.
Venue 80 – Alice Holt (UK, South East England)
An undulating trail run with trees and a lift with Norm and Kate Driskell (@totkat). Ticks all the right boxes for me. Also the parkrun where I met Victoria Dick and Becky Thurtell and watched a masterclass in parkrun chat from Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who started at the back of the field, worked his way forward and spoke to pretty much every runner he passed.
Venue 81 – Upton Court (UK, South East England)
My 100th parkrun and an inaugural to boot, so oodles of familiar faces to celebrate with, including Andy (@jovialgnome), who had made the long trek from the parkrun desert that is Lincolnshire. Flat, mixed surfaces, slightly muddy, could be fast in the right weather.
Venue 82 – Southampton (UK, South East England)
Happy New Year! Not a Saturday parkrun, but a New Year bank holiday special. Fast, flat, tarmac, and swiftly followed by a second parkrun at Netley Abbey. Bliss.
Venue 83 – Harrow Lodge (UK, Greater London)
Gooey. Think of the gooiest conditions you’ve ever run in and then throw in extra goo. Add some undulation, a vicious head wind, a course which goes past the finish but then adds on an interminable extra loop and you’ve got the inaugural Harrow Lodge parkrun. Of course, there were also lots of lovely parkrunners and a warming cup of tea to be had in the café afterwards, so on balance, still a win.
Venue 84 – Harrogate (UK, Yorkshire and Humberside)
Aka The Temple Newsam Inaugural That Wasn’t. You spot a Yorkshire inaugural, invite yourself to stay with some long suffering relatives, drive there in perfect conditions on the Friday afternoon and then watch in dismay as the snow falls on Friday evening, and parkrun after parkrun after parkrun gets cancelled (perfectly understandably) for safety reasons. Thank goodness for Twitter and the omniscience of King Danny, who pointed me in the direction of Harrogate. Flat laps on grass (or in this case powder snow), friendly marshalls, and a parkrunner who skied there on vintage wooden skies.
Venue 85 – Killerton (UK, South West England)
After a month off touring (would you believe me if I told you that I ran at Wimbledon every week in February?) it was down to Devon for a half marathon, and a sneaky trip to Killerton parkrun (the winter course) with Sharon. Three laps, each with a hill, may not be textbook tapering, but as I managed to run a half marathon PB the next day, it obviously didn’t do too much damage.
Venue 86 – Shorne Woods (UK, South East England)
There is only one thing you need to know about this venue. The café sells Salt and Vinegar Pom Bears. Yes, the car park is Pay and Display. Yes, the park is beautiful and has lots of well marked walks. Yes, the parkrun route is laps of undulating trail through trees. These are all useful things to know. But Salt and Vinegar Pom Bears. They are as rare as hens’ teeth, and worth a visit in and of themselves.
Venue 87 – Malahide (Ireland)
“Darling? Would you think I was mad if I went to Dublin with someone I’ve only met a couple of times just to run a parkrun? You would? You’re probably right, but I’m going anyway.” It was madness, but also great fun. The parkrun is gorgeous, the company, Sandhya, was entertaining, the café is simply luxurious and we had the added bonus of a meet up with Richard McChesney (@rpmcchesney), who was over in Ireland and touring the Irish parkruns. Just one little tip. If you’re going to Ireland, remember that their parkruns start at 9:30am!
Venue 88 – Maidstone (UK, South East England)
A lollipop that runs out along the river, takes a sharp turn up and over a wobbly bridge, makes a short loop of a park and then returns, though with an tiny wee hill added on at the end to bring you out right next door to the café, where a group of us (including the Reading posse of Ian Giggs, Tony Streams and Pete Morris and local ‘athoner Shaun (I like to count)) swapped tales of marathons past and planned.
Venue 89 – Preston Park (UK, South East England)
After the goo-fest that had been Preston Park at the start of the Brighton Marathon the week before, I was expecting this to be muddy, but the sun had gone to work, the park had dried out and the course is essentially run on tarmac, so in fact it was almost entirely mud free and perfect for a post-marathon recovery run. Added bonus was seeing die-hard tourists Nicola Tarrant (@roundshawontour) and Vanessa Rayner as well as Burnham Jogger, Dave Thomas, and as the lap includes an out and back section, there were plenty of opportunities to say ‘hello’.
Venue 90 – Winchester (UK, South East England)
Yes. I know. A hydration pack and gels are overkill for a parkrun, but this is less a parkrun and more the first three miles of my very long run. So I’m going to wear them anyway, even if I look completely and utterly stupid. And then I’m going to look lost and hope that some kind parkrunning soul will show me the way to the South Downs Way (thank you, kind parkrunning soul).
Venue 91 – Newport (UK, Wales)
It’s signposted from the motorway and I still got lost. Ooops. Essentially flat, utterly beautiful and extraordinarily friendly, even by parkrun standards. And also filled to the gunnels (I have no idea what a gunnel is) with runners who were also running the Cardiff Ultra the following day. I went along to tick another parkrun off my list, and I came away armed with a list of names and faces who would calm my pre-race nerves. Perfect.
Venue 92 – Brokenhurst (UK, South East England)
On the down side, it’s another of the laps of a playing field variety of parkrun, but on the plus side, there are some lovely views from the playing field, the course has a little out and back section for added cheering potential and the café is between the finish and the car park. All of which should make for a very sociable event.
Venue 93 – Newark (UK, East Midlands)
I have absolutely no idea where Newark is, but I remember the parkrun well. It was an inaugural, is an “out to a loop, round the loop a few times, back to the finish” style course and the loop is undulating and features trail and trees. There was a tweetup with Mike Wells (@mikew30) and Martin Hookway (@teamb_o_b), a meet up with Andy Bailey, the Cassells, Vanessa Rayner and Rosemary Egbe and a chance encounter with Dave Williamson, whom I’d met at snowy Harrogate, and his daughter Hannah.
Venue 94 – Queen Elizabeth (UK, South East England)
An idle enquiry on Twitter asking for suggestions of parkruns which were extendable into long runs garnered me a route (QE parkrun to Havant parkrun along the Staunton Way), a lift (from Havant parkrun to QE parkrun) so that I could run it as a point to point and an invitation to one of the nicest parkruns I have ever run (you’ve guessed it – undulating trail with trees). I did, obviously, check out the credentials of the person offering me a lift (QE parkrun’s Event Director) to reduce the chances that they were a mad axe murderer (if they are, they hide their axe well).
Venue 95 – Walthamstow (UK, Greater London)
A mere 11 weeks after Queen Elizabeth (injury sucks), I made my first attempt to return to running, or rather walking, as tail walker at Walthamstow. It was a failure on two counts. Firstly, I missed a runner, so did not, in fact, mark the end of the parkrun. Secondly, it turned out to be an overly optimistic return, and resulted in another two weeks of rest.
Venue 96 – Southwark (UK, Greater London)
Aka Zoe Wright’s (@zoecakes75) 50th parkrun*. A physio-sanctioned test walk (I may or may not have said I was going to walk it regardless), a 50th parkrun celebration, a tweetup with Mike Bristow (@urglecom) and a helping allen key from the family Williamson. Just a shame I had to dash off and couldn’t stay for cake.
*and Danny Norman’s 100th different venue – a fact which I’d blocked out due to the pain of him beating me into the Cowell Club
Venue 97 – Plymvalley (UK, South West England)
THERE ARE NO LOOS! There are, it’s true, other parkruns without loos, but as I’d invited myself to stay with Sharon and then persuaded her and her daughter that they wanted to get up an hour earlier than usual to visit Plym Valley, I took the lack of loos personally. However, the course is lovely (a grassy, fieldy start and finish with a glorious water and wooded section in the middle), the company was fabulous and the whole expedition improved my knowledge of the relative position of the South Coast ‘mouths.
Venue 98 – Corby (UK, East Midlands)
An inaugural that was not without incident – the course has a couple of uneven spots with a penchant for parkrunner ankles. It also featured a very brave marshal who stood atop a cliff top (possibly a slight exaggeration) telling the oncoming runners to take a sharp left before they fell, lemming like, over the edge. It’s not buggy friendly, as Adrian Sell (he of the Australian parkrun t-shirt) found out to his cost, but if you’re footloose and fancy free, it’s well worth a visit.
Venue 99 – Aylesbury (UK, South East England)
Unfortunately, Corby proved too much for my foot, and I had to take another month off parkrunning and settle for some parkrun volunteer tourism at Queen Elizabeth, Kingston, Basingstoke, Fulham Palace and Ashford. But the lure of Oxford parkrun with Julian (@morningofmagic) had me making plans, and when that parkrun fell through, I fell back on Aylesbury inaugural. A predominantly flat, double lick lollipop with the usual tourist faces in attendance proved to be the perfect way to attempt comeback number gazillion.
Venue 100 – Tonbridge (UK, South East England)
Mud, mud, glorious mud! My trainers have yet to forgive me, but I’m still grinning like a grinning thing in grinning land on grinning day. I think it’s safe to say that this is one event which will remain a crystal clear memory for the foreseeable future.
Don’t they all blur into one? Apparently not.
Which is my favourite? Wimbledon, because it’s home.